Different Types of Indian Folk Music

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


India is a land of many cultures and traditions, each with their own unique form of music. In this blog post, we explore the different types of Indian folk music and how they differ from one another.


Indian folk music has a long and rich history. It is diverse, with many different genres and styles, and is an important part of the country’s musical heritage.

Folk music is typically passed down from generation to generation, and often has a strong connection to the land and the people who live there. It is often used for entertainment, or to express important cultural values or traditions.

There are many different types of Indian folk music, each with its own unique style and sound. Some of the most popular genres include:

Bhangra: A upbeat, energetic type of folk music from the Punjab region of India. It is often accompanied by dance, and usually features drums and Punjabi lyrics.

Ghazals: A form of poetry-based music that originated in Persia, but has been adopted by many different cultures including India. Ghazals are typically slow-paced and emotional, and often deal with themes of love and loss.

Qawwali: A type of Sufi devotional music that originated in India. Qawwali often features themes of religious devotion and love, as well as catchy melodies and rhythmic dance movements.

Lokgeet: A genre of folk music from Uttar Pradesh, which includes both songs and dances. Lokgeet typically deals with themes of daily life, love, nature, and more. The songs are usually in Hindi or Braj Bhasha (a dialect of Hindi), and are often accompanied by dholak (a type of drum) or harmonium (a type of hand-pumped keyboard).


Thumri is a popular genre of semi-classical Indian music. It is traditionally sung in Hindi, although regional variations also exist. Thumri lyrics are usually based on classical ragas, and the tempo is slower than that of other popular genres such as bhangra or qawaali. The singing style is usually conversational and intimate, with the singer often improvising within the raga.

Thumri originated in North India, specifically in the Avadhi region (around Lucknow). It was popularized by musicians such as Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Pt. Kumar Gandharva. In recent years, thumri has undergone something of a renaissance, with younger musicians experiment with different styles and incorporating elements from other genres such as Sufi music and filmi songs.

There are two main types of thumri: the light thumri, which is based on ragas such as Pilu or Khamaj, and the more serious khayal-based thumri, which uses a greater range of musical techniques and often has a more geometric structure. Light thumris are usually sung in a relaxed manner, while khayal-based thumris can be quite complex and require a great deal of skill to perform correctly.


Dadra is a light classical form of Hindustani music that is commonly performed in semi-classical concerts. It is characterized by its simple harmonious structure and stress on the lyrical aspect of the song. The tempo of Dadra is slow, and thetime signature is 6/8 or 12/8. Light instrumental accompaniment is used, typically tabla and harmonium, although sometimes sitar or sarangi may also be included.

Dadra consists of two parts: the sthayi and the antara. The sthayi is usually sung in the first part of the performance and consists of slow, meditative verses; the antara is more upbeat and lively, and is sung in the second part. Dadra songs are typically love songs, often featuring nature imagery.


Tarana is a type of Indian folk music that is popular in many parts of the country. It is often sung by groups of women and is usually accompanied by clapping or other percussive instruments. The lyrics of tarana songs are often based on religious or spiritual themes, and they often include repetition of certain phrases or words.


Ghazal is a form of music popular in India, Pakistan, and other parts of South Asia. It is usually sung in Urdu, but can also be sung in Hindi, Punjabi, and other languages. Ghazals are usually love songs, but can also be about other topics such as politics or religion.

The word “ghazal” comes from the Arabic word for “flower” or “rose”, and the form is believed to have originated in Persia. Ghazals were first written in the 12th century, and became popular in India during the Mughal period (16th-17th centuries). Ghazals were traditionally sung by men, but women have been singing them since the early 20th century.

There are many famous ghazal singers, including Begum Akhtar, Mehdi Hassan, Ghulam Ali, Farida Khanum, and Munni Begum. Ghazals are often used in Bollywood films as well.


Bhajan is a form of Hindu devotional music. It has no fixed musical form or structure, although it usually includes a singing style called kirtan. Bhajans are often based on Hindu themes such as Vishnu, Shiva, Devi (goddess), and saints. They can be in any language, but are commonly in Hindi, Sanskrit or Tamil.

Bhajans are usually performed by a group of three or more people, with one person singing and the others playing instruments such as the harmonium, tabla or manjeera. The lyrics of bhajans often tell stories from Hindu mythology or describe the beauty of God.


Qawwali is a form of Sufi devotional music popular in South Asia, particularly in Pakistan and India. In Pakistan, it is known as “Sufi music”. Qawwali is unique to the sub-continent and has its origins in Persia and the Middle East. It is traditionally performed by a group of musicians, known as a qawwali party, consisting of a lead singer, or qawwal, accompanied by several other singers and musicians playing instruments.

The qawwal recites verses from the Quran and other religious texts in Urdu, Punjabi or Persian, while the other singers provide vocal accompaniment. Qawwali is usually performed at Sufi shrines or dargahs, and helps facilitate spiritual trances and ecstasy among the participants. It is also popular at weddings and other celebrations.


To conclude, there are many different types of Indian folk music, each with its own unique history, style, and tradition. If you’re interested in learning more about this fascinating and diverse genre, be sure to check out some of the resources listed below.

Folk music is an important part of India’s cultural heritage, and it’s a great way to experience the country’s rich tradition of storytelling and song. Whether you’re a fan of Bollywood or not, there’s sure to be a type of Indian folk music that you’ll enjoy. So why not give it a try?

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